Chondrosarcomas is a group of rare bone cancer tumors that begin in your cartilage. Cartilage is soft connective tissue that allows movement between your bones and joints. The most common treatment is surgery to remove cancerous tissue and bone. Approximately 60% to 70 % of people who have the most common form of chondrosarcoma are alive five years after diagnosis.


What is chondrosarcoma?

When healthcare providers talk about chondrosarcoma, they’re referring to a group of rare bone cancer tumors called sarcomas that begin in your cartilage. Cartilage is the soft connective tissue that allows movement between your bones and joints.

Chondrosarcomas can grow from cancerous tissue on your bone or from benign bone tumors that have become cancerous. This cancer can appear anywhere you have cartilage, but it typically forms in your pelvis, sternum, ribs, arms or legs.

The most common treatment is surgery to remove cancerous tissue and bone. Conventional chondrosarcoma is the most common form of chondrosarcoma. Approximately 60% to 70 % of people who have conventional chondrosarcoma are alive five years after diagnosis.


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Who’s affected by chondrosarcoma?

Chondrosarcoma affects men and women equally, and typically appears in people between ages 40 and 75. The average age at diagnosis is 51.

Is chondrosarcoma a common form of cancer?

No, it’s not common. Approximately 600 people are diagnosed with chondrosarcoma each year.


Are there different types of chondrosarcoma?

There are several types of chondrosarcoma:

  • Clear cell chondrosarcoma. This chondrosarcoma type is typically found in men between ages 30 to 50. It’s typically found near a joint. Chondrosarcomas tend to grow slowly and rarely spreads to other areas in your body.
  • Dedifferentiated chondrosarcoma. Dedifferentiated chondrosarcomas start as typical chondrosarcomas, but then some parts of the tumor change into cells like those of a high-grade sarcoma (such as an osteosarcoma, fibrosarcoma or high-grade undifferentiated pleomorphic sarcoma). This type of chondrosarcoma tends to develop in older adults and grows faster than most other chondrosarcomas.
  • Mesenchymal chondrosarcoma. This chondrosarcoma tends to develop in younger adults. This type often grows quickly and is more likely than other chondrosarcomas to come back after treatment.

What is the difference between chondrosarcoma and osteosarcoma?

Osteosarcoma starts in the bone and typically affects children. Chondrosarcoma starts in your cartilage and typically affects adults. Healthcare providers may treat chondrosarcoma with surgery alone and treat osteosarcoma with chemotherapy and surgery.


Symptoms and Causes

What are chondrosarcoma symptoms?

Like most bone cancers, pain in the bone and swelling is the most common symptom of chondrosarcoma. Other symptoms can be:

What causes chondrosarcoma?

Researchers are still investigating what causes bone cancers such as chondrosarcoma. They have linked chondrosarcoma to the inherited condition Li-Fraumeni syndrome. People with certain medical conditions have an increased risk of developing chondrosarcoma. These conditions include:

  • Maffucci Syndrome. People who have this syndrome have a large number of benign tumors on their bones that cause their bones to weaken. They might also have reddish or purplish skin growths, called hemangiomas, which are knots and tangles of unusually large blood vessels.
  • Ollier’s Disease. Like Maffucci syndrome, people who have this condition have multiple benign tumors on their bones.
  • Multiple Hereditary Exostoses (osteochondromatoses). These are multiple benign bone tumors that can disrupt your bone growth.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is chondrosarcoma diagnosed?

To diagnose chondrosarcoma, your healthcare provider will often first use X-rays to view images of your bones. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and CT (computed tomography) scans provide more detailed images of the areas around your bones and are usually obtained before any treatment.

To confirm the diagnosis, your healthcare provider will perform a biopsy, where a small piece of tissue is removed from the bone to be examined under a microscope. Pathologists then look at your tissue under a microscope. This process is sometimes called histology and is done to learn more about your chondrosarcoma. For example, pathologists confirm your tumor started in your cartilage instead of spreading to there from another area in your body. They also determine your chondrosarcoma’s grade, which is a measure of how fast your tumor is likely to grow. This information helps providers set your treatment plan.

What are chondrosarcoma grades?

Chondrosarcomas are given a grade from 1 (I) to 3 (III). The lower the grade, the slower the cancer tends to grow and the less likely it is to spread:

  • Low-grade (grade I) chondrosarcomas, also called atypical cartilaginous tumors, tend to grow the slowest and are very unlikely to spread.
  • Intermediate-grade (grade II) chondrosarcomas are slightly more likely to spread.
  • High-grade (grade III) chondrosarcomas are the most likely to spread.

Management and Treatment

How is chondrosarcoma treated?

Healthcare providers typically use surgery to treat chondrosarcoma. Your healthcare provider will talk to you about your treatment options, including surgery that might require removing a limb. Here are some options your provider might recommend:

  • Surgery: You might have limb-salvage or limb-sparing surgery. Your surgeon removes your cancer and some surrounding normal tissue but leaves your limb intact. Sometimes limb salvaging surgery isn’t possible. In that case, your surgeon removes the cancer and all or part of your limb.
  • Bone grafts: Your surgeon might use real or artificial bone grafts to repair or rebuild affected bones.
  • Sometimes, repeat surgery is needed if all of the cancer cells were not removed the first time around.

Does chondrosarcoma respond to chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is not typically used to treat chondrosarcoma. That being said, your healthcare provider might use chemotherapy to treat more aggressive forms of chondrosarcoma, like dedifferentiated chondrosarcoma.


How can I reduce my risk of developing chondrosarcoma?

Researchers have linked some medical conditions to an increased risk of developing chondrosarcoma. Talk to your healthcare provider about your family medical history so they can assess your risk and recommend steps to monitor your health.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have chondrosarcoma?

There are several types of chondrosarcoma, each with different prognoses or expected outcomes. Ask your healthcare provider about your specific diagnosis and prognosis.

Living With

I have chondrosarcoma. How do I take care of myself?

Living with chondrosarcoma usually starts with recovering from treatment. Chondrosarcoma is often treated with surgery that might involve removing a limb or section of a limb to remove your cancer. Once you’ve recovered from surgery, you’ll need to start a rehabilitation program to help you adjust to using a prosthetic limb or living with an internal prosthesis.

You might need help adjusting to other changes, such as how you go about your everyday life or changes in your appearance. Your healthcare provider will have suggestions for physical, occupational or mental health therapies that might help you cope with theseh challenges.

When should I see my healthcare provider?

You should see your healthcare provider if you notice changes in your body that might be signs your cancer has returned.

What questions should I ask my healthcare provider about my diagnosis?

There are several types of chondrosarcomas, some of which have different prognoses or expected outcomes. Here are some questions you might want to ask your healthcare provider:

  • What kind of chondrosarcoma do I have?
  • Why did I get this form of bone cancer?
  • What treatments do you recommend?
  • Why do you recommend those treatments?
  • What are the treatment side effects?
  • If I have the recommended treatments, can my chondrosarcoma come back?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Being diagnosed with the rare bone cancer chondrosarcoma is the first step on what could be a long road to recovery. That road will probably start with surgery to remove your cancer and then rehabilitation to recover from your surgery and other treatment. While this cancer can be treated successfully, it will change your life. You might need help coping with physical and emotional challenges. Talk to your healthcare provider about the challenges you’re facing. Your provider and their team know what you’re going through. As you start your journey, they will be with you every step of the way.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 11/16/2021.

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